Goldman shares fall on analyst cuts, reports

NEW YORK/BANGALORE Thu May 12, 2011 2:57pm EDT

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NEW YORK/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) shares were down 3.2 percent on Thursday afternoon after two analysts downgraded the stock and press reports questioned whether a Senate investigation will threaten the bank's reputation.

A Bloomberg poll of 1,263 traders, investors and analysts released on Thursday showed that 54 percent now hold a negative opinion of the company, which is facing regulatory probes, lawsuits and negative public scrutiny.

"Fifty-four percent of the world wants to tar and feather Goldman Sachs," says Peter Sorrentino, portfolio manager at Huntington Funds, which has $14.8 billion under management and owns $19.5 million worth of Goldman stock.

Veteran bank analyst Richard Bove downgraded Goldman Sachs on Thursday to "sell" from "neutral," citing factors including the bank's potential legal pressure, and a negative piece in Rolling Stone magazine by Matt Taibbi.

Taibbi famously called Goldman a "vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" in an earlier article.

In his latest article, Taibbi focused on findings from the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.

"The Levin report catalogs dozens of instances of business practices that are objectively shocking, no matter how any high-priced lawyer chooses to interpret them," Taibbi wrote, saying that the firm bet against its clients and kept customers "trapped in bad investments."

By early afternoon, Goldman's shares were down $4.76 to $143.12 on more than twice the average daily volume.

Earlier this week, Goldman disclosed in a quarterly regulatory filing that Commodity Futures Trading Commission staff recommended that the agency file charges against the bank following a probe of its clearing business.

The bank also confirmed that the Justice Department is investigating its actions in the derivatives market in 2007. Those matters were first targeted by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a civil fraud lawsuit last year and brought up again in Levin's report.

"They can't get out of the crosshairs," said Jason Ware, a senior research analyst with Albion Financial Group, a fund manager that does not own Goldman and has a negative view of the stock. "There are some pretty large uncertainties, given the potential for civil action, for criminal action, for the brand itself."

In addition to Bove's downgrading the stock, Standard & Poor's equity analyst Chris Maimone lowered his rating on the stock, to "hold" from "buy." He reduced his target price to $156 from $176.

Bove said public pressure could force Goldman to change.

"It is clear to outsiders that there must be a major restructuring of the company at the Board and executive suite levels or Congress will not be satisfied," said Bove. "The company continues to fight such a change."

Huntington exited some of its Goldman position last year for two reasons, Sorrentino said.

The bank not only faced business challenges, but had a perception and reputation issue too. Until Goldman can overcome that negative sentiment, Huntington is not going to be an active buyer of the shares, Sorrentino said.

"We kept feeling like we're probably one headline away from a disaster on the name," said Sorrentino. "There is this built-up animosity that somehow they played everybody in the room and walked away with all the chips. As a shareholder, you have to be cognizant of the fact that there are some people out there who would like to even the score up."

(Editing by Robert MacMillan)

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